Frank Luntz: Do it Clinton style

Damn the lights are hot. As you look up you can see 200 people in the audience, but you know this is only a fraction of the 60 million eyeballs that are focused on you. The election is tight. One slip and you could lose, one jump and you could win. A young lady stands up, with a question card in her hand. You can sense she is anxious and that the audience want her to succeed in asking a good question . “Am I going to get a job when I leave University?”. What is your answer?

This is the question Frank Luntz, US superstar pollster and top showman, posed to a Policy Exchange audience. “Not if you elect my opponent” – Too negative. “Yes if you vote for me” – Won’t be believed because it stinks of politics.

Mitt Romney’s campaign was not a good one. Wannabe leaders have to connect with the average citizen, by showing they understand their problems. Empathy is essential; “I get it” the most powerful phrase. For Luntz, unless you can channel this part of Bill Clinton’s spirit you shouldn’t bother stepping on stage.

Luntz’s focus is on language, and the emotions we attach to words. For him “imagine” is the strongest word because it gets the audience to think about issues in their own terms. Speak visual English. For example, the word “bi-partisan” doesn’t work because it is associated with politics (boo), but the phrase “reaching across the aisle” connects because it is both folksy and visual. “Business” is another boo as people don’t think businesses are accountable or respect “people like us”. In the US, post-Credit Crunch, the terms “free market” and “capitalism” stimulate negativity. Polling says candidates are better off saying “economic freedom”.

That these type of tactics were very successful for Clinton and Blair is undeniable. Language was so important that they attached “New” to 100 years of history. But for me people have evolved. When a foreign substance enters our system the anti-bodies fight back. In a similar way the electorate becomes immune to well used political methods. Team Obama were successful because they had a strategy that got the people they needed to join the dots between their values and voting Obama. They also ensured that the Republicans talked about their values, rather than the economy. In February 2012 Obama pushed over the first domino in a chain that would lead to Republican candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock in October making unacceptable statements about rape. By making a strong public statement that women should always be able to get contraception under “Obama-care” – at a time when the Republican nominee process was at its most competitive – Obama set the terms of the Presidential election in a way that he knew would benefit him. He calculated that GOP would go into a frenzy for the bone he threw into their cage, and then wouldn’t be able to let go.  

So, how would you answer the question, “Am I going to get a job when I leave University?”?

“What job do you want to do?” “What do you need to do to get there?” “This is how I can help, and I want to help people like you”. Frank Luntz made the compelling point that the sound of silence is powerful in politics. Most politicians talk to much and don’t listen enough. If you want people to listen don’t preach at them, include them. If you attach these tactics to the right strategy then success is yours.

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